By Ninha Silva
Wartime sexual violence is a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of victims across the world. Patterns of this occurrence led scholars to believe that women represent the highest risk of sexual violence as they are “targeted more often in ways that are directly linked to their gender and sexual identity and to their identity as the bearers and protectors of a community’s culture and future generations” (L.Leiby, 2009). In Guatemala, where indigenous people form 51% of the Guatemalan population, during the thirty six years of civil war that wiped the country, from over 200,000 assassinations and disappearances that were accounted, 83% were committed against the indigenous Maya Ixil population (Freedom House). For these figures, might contribute the fact that, the first years of the armed conflict were intense in the Maya’s territory, but also the fact that, compared to the national population, these communities were out casted and disadvantaged in many ways, specifically in political and economic areas.
State officials’ claim unawareness on the numbers and cases of sexual violence, which are extremely common and forces one to question how widespread violence and violation of human rights can occur without being noticed. As in Guatemala, countries such as Peru, Aghanistan and Central African Republic, allow a culture of anonymity and permissiveness that benefits the perpetrator, giving them confidence to carry on with their crimes without fear of being caught and brought to justice.
From the 10th to the 13th of June, London was stage for the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict. A very well intentioned agenda emphasized the active participation of women in maintaining peace and security; as well as the involvement of civil society in engaging their communities in the prevention and response to sexual violence; and the commitment of faith groups providing care, treatment and support for survivors.
Nevertheless, in a time when Guatemala waits to resume the trial of General Rios Montt, who it is believed to have been responsible for half of all human rights violations (Amnesty International) carried out during the thirty six years of conflict, critics would expect that the summit would focus in outlining mechanisms to reinforce state agents’ accountability and methods, and in analysing thoroughly the cooperation between international institutions and governments in order to change the legislation and bring justice to all victims of sexual violence during the internal armed conflict.
Chaired by the Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie, the summit brought together 1,700 delegates and 129 country delegations, international organizations, over 1000 experts, members of civil society, faith leaders and youth organizations. As result of the summit, it was signed a Statement of Action, which main purpose is to turn political commitment into practical actions and bring up a range of reforms in the legal, humanitarian and security sectors.
All the efforts put in this summit to determine practical steps to tackle rape in wartime conflict, should be recognised, however, it is crucial to understand the real impact of this meeting, in the life of hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual violence. It is equally imperative to define what will change in Guatemala’s government accountability, and which changes will be undertaken in its legislation. It is decisive that the government commits to be actively involved reinforcing accountability in different levels, as seems to be the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, which launched a National Strategy to Fight Sexual Violence and National Action Plan on ending sexual violence in conflict respectively, with the support of their ministers.
Throughout the summit, it was pledged a stronger involvement from the civil society and women in the public sphere. However, the fact that first certain preconditions need to be created to allow women to participate freely in the society and effectively in conflict prevention, resolution and recovery seem to be overlooked. In a patriarchal society such as Guatemala, it is important to create infrastructures and means to protect women that risk their life when stepping forward to denounce perpetrators of sexual violence, being high profile or not. Likewise, women’s movements should be encouraged to demonstrate and protect their rights, without fear of condemnation or attack.
Data suggests that in Guatemala, during the civil war, rape was the most frequent form of abuse, constituting 84 percent of all sexual violations (L. Leiby,2009) and most of the cases were undertaken by agents of the state. It is stated in the summit’s document that “Ministers of Defence should take responsibility for preventing sexual violence by their armed forces”. The first problem that arises here, is that it seems unlikely to hold anyone accountable without a mechanism of control and denunciation inside the armed forces; second, in large amount of rape cases that became public in Guatemala, it was proved that commanders used intimidation and punishment against officers that refused to sexually abuse women (L.Leiby, 2009:459). Therefore, it is necessary to create a system of control extended to officials in the highest levels of command, in which they are taken to trial in a federal court or in a court-martial, whether they order or undertake any kind of sexual crime.
The summit’s deliverables seem to centre in setting up a book of rules and not so much in defining and applying mechanisms of reinforcement of state actions. So, the question that poses now is, how international law and institutions are going to be applied to Guatemala’s state and judicial system in order to condemn all individuals accused of sexual violence, and bring justice to the victims.
 According to UN’s Truth Commission, state forces were responsible for 93 percent of violations documented